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Raul Rodriguez

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 2: Harold J. Landreneau

Harold Landreneau earns our endorsement for this primary slot with a significant caveat. Landreneau, 49, needs to shed the communication style of a chief clerk of a justice of the peace court, a job he held for over a decade, and assume the more deliberate and focused demeanor of a member of the judiciary. It’s not enough to be courteous to litigants: To be an effective manager, a judge needs to be concise.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 5: David M. Fleischer

In this toss-up race to replace Judge Margaret Stewart Harris, our endorsement goes to David M. Fleischer, a graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School over Armen “Hammer” Merjanian.

Both candidates believe in more emphasis on rehabilitation in the county criminal court system. Even though Merjanian’s noble goal of ending mass incarceration needs more refinement, both candidates showed passion for changing a system that’s set in its ways and that needs much improvement. Fleischer, 43, has eight more years of experience as criminal lawyer than Merjanian. The idealistic Merjanian – whose five years of experience barely exceeds the statutory minimum for this bench – has the potential to be a good judge. While we’d strongly urge Merjanian to run again, voters should cast their ballots in this primary contest for Fleischer.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 7: Andrew W. Wright

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W. Wright is his long rockstar-style hair and beard – not what voters are used to seeing on a judge. The reasons for his copious coiffure? He’s growing out his hair to donate it, and the beard covers up a double chin.

Wright’s experience as a lawyer is significantly more traditional. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has been practicing law for over a decade, and has been exclusively practicing criminal defense for eight years. Wright, 35, has endorsed personal recognizance bonds as the norm for misdemeanor court – we agree – and assured us that, hairstyle aside, he plans on staying to the straight and narrow of his judicial responsibilities. That includes helping first offenders, supporting the expansion of diversion courts and sentencing the worst criminals to the highest punishment possible for county criminal courts – one year in jail.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

A Jewish lawyer appointed to represent a general in the Aryan Brotherhood? That sounds like it could have been a movie, but it’s only one case in candidate Gus Saper’s 43-year career as a criminal defense attorney. With the Harris County Criminal Justice Center out of action for another two years due to Hurricane Harvey, this bench needs a resourceful judge like Saper.

A graduate of the South Texas School of Law Houston, Saper, 69, has the depth of knowledge and the historical perspective to know how to upgrade the procedures in this court to make them more courteous and efficient even with limited resources.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 12: Juan J. Aguirre

Juan J. Aguirre started his career in law by working alongside his father – a courthouse janitor in Del Rio.

“I got my baptism into the law field by cleaning up the courtroom,” Aguirre told us at his screening.

Since then he has graduated from South Texas School of Law Houston and worked for the past 16 years as a criminal law attorney, first as an assistant district attorney for Harris County and then as a criminal defense attorney. Aguirre, 51, takes pride in his mentorship of young lawyers, advising them to delve deep into their profession by visiting the crime scene and the crime lab and riding with the police to see what law enforcement sees. Before becoming a lawyer, Aguirre worked as a city planner and manager after obtaining a Masters of Urban Planning from Texas A&M University.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

Raul Rodriquez, 58, is our choice for the Democratic primary. With 28 years of experience practicing criminal law, Rodriquez is well-qualified. This naturalized citizen is a clear communicator who also happens to be bilingual. He has judicial experience, having served as city of Houston municipal court judge for 12 years. Finally, he displays the right temperament for the judiciary.

The South Texas Law Center Houston graduate told us, “I believe it’s important for a judge to be involved in a community and to know what goes on there.”

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

In this race between two young, passionate lawyers, we encourage Democratic voters to back Kris Ougrah, who told the editorial board he is running to improve the future of Houston’s youth. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Ougrah, 40, promises to take personal interest in setting young offenders on the right path in life. He also wants to run a mentorship program. However, we would recommend that Ougrah, who had a habit of being overly loquacious during his editorial board interview, focus on the judicious practice of a succinct comment.

Ougrah has been practicing law about twice as long as his opponent, Tonya Jones, who was admitted to the bar in 2011.

Relevant Q&As: Harold Landreneau, Armen Merjanian, Gus Saper, Kris Ougrah. One from Davis Fleischer is in the queue.

As noted before, that finishes off the judicial category for the Chron. They still have a lot of other ground to cover. In the meantime, it’s apparent that in some of these races, there are very clear choices, one candidate who got recommended by every group they screened with. In others the decision is tougher, but that’s because both of the options are good. I can’t complain about that.

Maldonado and Jordan win court nominations

Last night at the quarterly Harris County Democratic Party County Executive Committee meeting, HCDP precinct chairs selected the nominees for the two newly-created judicial positions. It was a long meeting – it took some time to sign all the precinct chairs in, and there was some normal business to conduct before we got to the voting – but it was a civil process, with no challenges to the way it was conducted.

For the 507th Family District Court, the six candidates that I have been writing about here were all duly nominated and seconded, with no other candidates showing up at the last minute. Each had two minutes to speak, then we voted, using division of the house as we eventually did this past Saturday. This took the longest amount of time, as there were a lot of people moving around and a lot of noses to count, but in the end the top two candidates were Shawn Thierry and Julia Maldonado. After those totals were agreed upon, the voters for the other candidates had the opportunity to join one of those two remaining groups. Maldonado wound up collecting the bulk of the other candidates’ supporters, and won the runoff by the margin of 123 to 115.

The County Criminal Court at Law #16 process was much quicker, as there were only three candidates and it was easier dividing the room into discrete groupings. Darrell Jordan and Raul Rodriguez were the leaders, and after David Singer’s supporters made their second choice, Jordan maintained his lead and won the nomination.

I voted for Maldonado in both rounds for the 507th, and for Singer followed by Rodriguez in the 16th. Both were tough choices, and I didn’t really settle on whom to support until I was there. I was happy with all of the candidates, and they each acquitted themselves well in their brief speeches. Congratulations to Maldonado and Jordan for coming out on top.

There was a lot of energy in the room, and even as we all left, I got the sense that people were still basically happy, whether their candidates had won or not. It’s a good feeling going forward.

Next up: Judicial nominations

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With the nomination for Commissioners Court settled, all that’s left for me to do as Precinct Chair is participate in the process to select nominees for the two new courts, the 507th Family District Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. As a reminder, here are the new and revisited Q&A’s I published over the last two weeks for the candidates in these races:

507th Family District Court

Jim Evans
Julia Maldonado
Sandra Peake
Chip Wells
Germaine Tanner
Shawn Thierry

County Criminal Court at Law #16

David Singer
Darrell Jordan
Raul Rodriguez

Maldonado, Wells, Thierry, Singer, and Rodriguez were all there on Saturday as candidates. Peake was there as a precinct chair. I don’t know if she voted for a Commissioners Court candidate or not; she had previously sent out an email saying she would abstain from voting, due to her status as a candidate for the 507th. That message led to an email from another chair who called on her to resign from the race in the 507th on the grounds that she had violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by having been listed as one of Rodney Ellis’ supporters prior to the Saturday meeting. Her name is still on that list, so she may have some questions to answer.

There apparently remains some bad blood between Peake and Maldonado stemming from the 2014 primary in which they both competed for the nomination for the 246th Family Court (Peake eventually won the primary by a 51-49 margin). Maldonado filed a complaint against Peake prior to the election alleging that she had an insufficient number of petition signatures. Greg Enos highlighted some of the testimony from the hearing, in which Maldonado ultimately failed to receive injunctive relief. An anonymous (of course) mailer last week brought all of this up, including the same testimony that Enos flagged. I have no idea if this was intended as a hit piece on Maldonado or on Peake because it was anonymous (duh!) and because I barely glanced at it, awash as I was with Precinct 1 mail at the time.

That and the argument about statistics and qualifications have been the main points of contention in this race. Maldonado, Tanner, and Thierry have been the most active in sending email to precinct chairs, with Maldonado and Tanner being the most vocal about qualifications. Chip Wells and Sandra Peake have been much more quiet, and Jim Evans has been basically invisible. I bring this up mostly to note that the lesson everyone should have learned from Saturday is that no one is actually a candidate for any of these positions unless they know for a fact that at least one precinct chair intends to nominate them for the position. My advice to all nine candidates – the 16th Criminal Court at Law race has been far more sedate – is to make sure you have a commitment from a precinct chair for that.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Raul Rodriguez

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are three people who have expressed an interest in the new County Criminal Court at Law #16. All three have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies. I will be revisiting these for the test of this week.

Raul Rodriguez was a candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court in 2016. Here are the responses he sent to me for the March primary.

Raul Rodriguez

Raul Rodriguez

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Raul Rodriguez. I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. I came to the United States when I was two. The first house that my family lived in was in Houston’s Second Ward. We later moved to Northside, where I grew up. I graduated from John H. Reagan High School in the Heights. Shortly after graduating from high school, I became a U.S. citizen – more than anything, because I wanted to be able to vote.

I went on to the University of Houston where I received a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration. After working for about six years in the corporate world, I decided to return to school to pursue a law degree. I graduated from South Texas College of Law in December 1991 and became licensed in January 1992.

In 2005, Mayor Bill White appointed me to serve as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts. I still presently hold this position, and I continue to have the privilege of presiding over Class C misdemeanor cases in these courts.

Family is very important to me. My parents were small business owners in the Houston area until my father sold his business in 2015, over 40 years after he started his company. I have five brothers, three of whom served in the U.S. Armed Forces. My youngest brother is a Houston Police Officer. I am married to Patricia Limon de Rodriguez, who is actively involved in various causes and organizations in Houston / Harris County.

I am a judicial candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas. The duties of the judge of this Court are to preside over all levels of felony cases.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a State Criminal District Court that handles all levels of felony cases. Felonies are more serious offenses than misdemeanors.

These crimes include arson, aggravated assaults, robbery, serious drug offenses and sexual assaults. Homicide cases such as manslaughter, murder and capital murder also fall under the jurisdiction of these courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County, there are only three Latino judges.

The reason that I am running is because two of these judges are retiring in 2016, Judge David Mendoza and Judge Ruben Guerrero, the current judge of the 174th Criminal District Court.

I would like to see Harris County keep its Latino representation in the criminal court system, and I believe I have the experience and judicial temperament necessary to transition into this next progression of my career: seeking election as a Criminal District Court Judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law as a criminal defense attorney since 1992. In those 24 years, I have tried over 200 cases including approximately 30-35 criminal jury trials. I have been doing court appointments as well as representing clients through my own practice, handling felony as well as misdemeanor cases at both the State District Court and County Criminal Courts at Law.

I am also a mediator, and I am often referred cases by the Family District Courts and Civil District Courts to assist in resolving disputes between litigants.

I had the honor of being appointed by Mayor Bill White as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts in November 2005. By law, I am required to apply for reappointment every two years, and I take great pride that I still currently hold that position ten years later.

5. Why is this race important?

Every election / race is important, and this particular one is no different. However, out of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County there are only three Latino judges. Two of the Latino judges are retiring and not seeking reelection in 2016. I am the only Democratic Latino candidate for a Criminal District Court in 2016. In a county whose population includes over 40 percent Latino citizens, having less than three Latino Criminal District Court judges is unacceptable.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

With 24 years as a criminal defense attorney and ten years as an Associate Judge with the City of Houston, I believe that I am the best qualified candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court.

In addition, I am the only Latino Democratic candidate for Criminal District Court for the 2016 primary.

Minorities make up nearly 70 percent of the population in Harris County. If I am unsuccessful in my bid to be judge of the 174th Criminal District Court, there will only be one Latino Criminal District Judge that represents the citizens of Harris County. This statistic is insupportable. The judges of these courts should reflect the population of Harris County.

While I would like every voter to pick me, I realize that it is not always going to be the case. I encourage people to go vote even if it is not for me or if they cannot vote for me because they live in another county.

With that said, I would like to remind every eligible voter to go vote because their vote matters. Early Voting is from February 16, 2016 through February 26, 2016. Election Day is March 1, 2016.

Update on the nomination selection processes

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In six days, Democratic precinct chairs in County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will select a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. In 11 days, all Democratic precinct chairs will select nominees for the 507th Family Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. This is a brief update on activity related to those races.

About a week ago, I received a letter addressed to precinct chairs concerning the 507th Family Court race. It was sent by fellow precinct chair Natalie Fairbanks and it enumerated the number of Harris County family court cases that each of the six known candidates had been involved in since 2008. I did a scan of the letter, which you can see here. A couple of days later, candidate Germaine Tanner sent an email to precinct chairs arguing that the data in the Fairbanks was inaccurate and incomplete, as all the attorneys in question have been practicing since well before 2008 and the count of cases did not include those “that were filed as post-divorce proceedings between the years 2008-2015, but with a case number that preceded the year 2008”. You can see this email here. Later that same day, candidate Julia Maldonado sent her own email pointing out that there are qualifications beyond number of cases worked, such as board certification, and that some attorneys handle cases outside of Harris County as well. You can see that email here.

As for the County Criminal Court at Law #16 race, the HCDP lists three candidates who have stated an interest in that nomination. Two of them have made themselves known to precinct chairs recently. David Singer, who up till recently was the only candidate I was aware of for this position, sent a letter to precinct chairs outlining his background and qualifications. I thought he had also sent that via email, but if so I can’t find it. This is the back side of his push card from the March primary for the 177th Criminal District Court, which is from an email he did send to precinct chairs in February. It’s a succinct summary of what was in the letter. Last week, I received an email from Darrell Jordan, who was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. You can see that email here. The third candidate in this race is Raul Rodriguez, who had run for the 174th Criminal District Court this March and like Singer had been a candidate for one of the County Criminal Courts in 2014. I’ve not yet heard anything from him on this race. I do have Q&As from all three from past candidacies – Singer and Rodriguez for 2016, Jordan for 2010 – and will be revisiting those this week.

Finally, on the Commissioners Court race, candidate Georgia Provost made a pair of robocalls to precinct chairs this week. It was the first contact from a candidate not named Ellis, Locke, or Boykins that I received. And I have to say, of all the ways available to reach out to voters, I have no idea why she chose the robocall route. Robocalls have their place in the firmament – they’re a pretty efficient way of reminding people that there is an election in the first place – but given that nobody listens past the first five or ten seconds and you don’t know who actually picked up the phone, why would you do that for a more detailed sales pitch like this race? I mean, there’s 125 voters total for this race. At a very leisurely pace of five contacts per day, you could reach everyone in less than a month, and ensure that you personally get to talk to them. I can’t imagine a less effective strategy for a race like this than robocalls.

Finally, a few days ago I received a letter from Rep. Harold Dutton endorsing Gene Locke for the position. To the best of my admittedly spotty recollection, it’s the only letter I’ve received from an elected official endorsing someone other than Rodney Ellis. At the very least, it’s the only one I’ve received recently from an elected official.

Six days till we pick a Commissioner. Eleven days till we pick two judicial candidates. Hang in there, y’all.

Judicial Q&A: Raul Rodriguez

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Raul Rodriguez

Raul Rodriguez

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Raul Rodriguez. I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. I came to the United States when I was two. The first house that my family lived in was in Houston’s Second Ward. We later moved to Northside, where I grew up. I graduated from John H. Reagan High School in the Heights. Shortly after graduating from high school, I became a U.S. citizen – more than anything, because I wanted to be able to vote.

I went on to the University of Houston where I received a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration. After working for about six years in the corporate world, I decided to return to school to pursue a law degree. I graduated from South Texas College of Law in December 1991 and became licensed in January 1992.

In 2005, Mayor Bill White appointed me to serve as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts. I still presently hold this position, and I continue to have the privilege of presiding over Class C misdemeanor cases in these courts.

Family is very important to me. My parents were small business owners in the Houston area until my father sold his business in 2015, over 40 years after he started his company. I have five brothers, three of whom served in the U.S. Armed Forces. My youngest brother is a Houston Police Officer. I am married to Patricia Limon de Rodriguez, who is actively involved in various causes and organizations in Houston / Harris County.

I am a judicial candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas. The duties of the judge of this Court are to preside over all levels of felony cases.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a State Criminal District Court that handles all levels of felony cases. Felonies are more serious offenses than misdemeanors.

These crimes include arson, aggravated assaults, robbery, serious drug offenses and sexual assaults. Homicide cases such as manslaughter, murder and capital murder also fall under the jurisdiction of these courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County, there are only three Latino judges.

The reason that I am running is because two of these judges are retiring in 2016, Judge David Mendoza and Judge Ruben Guerrero, the current judge of the 174th Criminal District Court.

I would like to see Harris County keep its Latino representation in the criminal court system, and I believe I have the experience and judicial temperament necessary to transition into this next progression of my career: seeking election as a Criminal District Court Judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law as a criminal defense attorney since 1992. In those 24 years, I have tried over 200 cases including approximately 30-35 criminal jury trials. I have been doing court appointments as well as representing clients through my own practice, handling felony as well as misdemeanor cases at both the State District Court and County Criminal Courts at Law.

I am also a mediator, and I am often referred cases by the Family District Courts and Civil District Courts to assist in resolving disputes between litigants.

I had the honor of being appointed by Mayor Bill White as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts in November 2005. By law, I am required to apply for reappointment every two years, and I take great pride that I still currently hold that position ten years later.

5. Why is this race important?

Every election / race is important, and this particular one is no different. However, out of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County there are only three Latino judges. Two of the Latino judges are retiring and not seeking reelection in 2016. I am the only Democratic Latino candidate for a Criminal District Court in 2016. In a county whose population includes over 40 percent Latino citizens, having less than three Latino Criminal District Court judges is unacceptable.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

With 24 years as a criminal defense attorney and ten years as an Associate Judge with the City of Houston, I believe that I am the best qualified candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court.

In addition, I am the only Latino Democratic candidate for Criminal District Court for the 2016 primary.

Minorities make up nearly 70 percent of the population in Harris County. If I am unsuccessful in my bid to be judge of the 174th Criminal District Court, there will only be one Latino Criminal District Judge that represents the citizens of Harris County. This statistic is insupportable. The judges of these courts should reflect the population of Harris County.

While I would like every voter to pick me, I realize that it is not always going to be the case. I encourage people to go vote even if it is not for me or if they cannot vote for me because they live in another county.

With that said, I would like to remind every eligible voter to go vote because their vote matters. Early Voting is from February 16, 2016 through February 26, 2016. Election Day is March 1, 2016.